that area and let the chips fall where they may, where the work led you. >> some booktv evan thomas recounts the tenure of america's 34th president, dwight eisenhower. mr. thomas is introduced by susan eisenhower the granddaughter of the dwight eisenhower at the eisenhower institute in washington d.c.. this is about 50 minutes. ..
>> the answer was there is no plan. i blew up, not for the first or last time, and said, how can it be the head of the soviet union dies, and we have no contingency plan. it was criminal, said the president. the truth was the united states and the other western nations had very little idea of what was happening behind the iron curtain. two years later at the first summit meeting of the cold war
era at geneva in 1955, the united states still did not know who was running the soviet union. they sent four leaders, one tall white man in a white suit with a white goatee who looked like colonel sanders from kentucky fried chicken, clearly, a figure head. the head of the red army, ike's ally in defeating the nazis in world war ii. eisenhower spent his son, john, to do some spying. subdued and shaken, just whispered, "things are not as they seem." presidentize -- president eisenhower found out who was in charge on the fifth day of the conference. the big pier of the nuclear age was a surprise attack. proposed each country allow the other country's reconnaissance
plane to fly overhead to detect preparations for a sneak attack. the soviet delegation initially seemed to like the idea, but at a reception afterwards, a short round man came straight for president eisenhower wagging a stubby finger saying it was the general secretary of the communism party and the true party in the kremlin. open skies was just a chance for the americans to peer into the russians. in a diary at geneva, it was written it's a mystery, how can this fat as a rule -- vol gear man be the head of the czar of all of these millions of people of this vast country? he seemed to be equal parts bluster and insecurity. to his son, he was worried he was not properly dressed for dinner another the summit, and the plane he flew in was smaller
than the plane for the western leaders. he consolidated power in the years ahead liked to brag and threaten saying they were cranking out rockets like sausages and said, "we will bury you." he wanted to test the west. the testing place and the flash point was berlin, the former german capital, 100 miles inside east communism germany, but still a free city protected by the western powers. in 1958, there was an ultimatum. the west had to be out of berlin in six months or else. this was a crisis, the gravest crisis of the cold war up to that point. the prez -- the press, congress, and the administration thought if meant war. we needed resolve to beef up the troops' strength and defy the red army. meeting privately with the
leaders, president eisenhower said we're not going to do that. indeed, he said, we're cutting forces in germany by 50,000 men. his advisers and the congressmen bewildered. cut the troop strength? won't that show weakness? ike was all alone and heavily criticized in the press. he seemed utterly unphased. eisenhower had a great capacity to take responsibility. he may have seen that famous photograph taken of ike on the eve of d-day in june 1944. general eisenhower, the supreme allied commander, wearing normal uniform, talking to a group of paratroopers, geared up, faces blackened, ready to jump mind german lines. ike came to see the men because he was told they were not likely to come back. the airborne assault was wreckenned to lose 70% of the men. ice wanted to look the men in the eye before sending them to
their fates. in the jacket pocket, there was a note that if landings failed, the responsibility was his alone. eisenhower was a confident man, and i'm sure he had a huge ego, but it was a good confidence that you don't see today, the confidence to be humble. indeed, on occasion, he was willing to act dumb if it suited his purposes. as president in march of 1955, he was about to go into a press conference in a crisis with red china, and aids warned him to be careful. don't worry, said, ike, i'll confuse them, and he did. he had bad syntax, but i noticed in the private letters and memos were clear as a bell. he was smiling congenial, but also tough. his vice president, richard nixon wrote that ike was, quote, a deviant man, devious in the best sense of the word, added
nixon. i was talking to eisenhower's son, john, he said, about the apparent even balance about the congenial ike and cold-blooded ike. he said, make that 75% cold-blooded. when ike was elected president, the military, top brass, hopeful the formal general would spend more on weapons and the military: in fact, ike reduced military spending. he was always weary of the military hyping the needs for weapons and men. when he saw the pentagon's estimate, he wrote in the margin, i doubt it, it took us three months just to take sicily. when the spending requests came in, he said, i know the boys at the pentagon. he believed real national security was from a sound economy. he was a deficit hawk, boy, we could use him today, who controlled government spending and taxes. the famous speech warning against the industrial complex
was at the end of the presidency, but worked on it all along behind the scenes. heaven help us he liked to say when we get a president who knows less about the military than i do. it was not about the economy or saving money. in the berlin crisis and earlier crisis with korea and vietnam in 1953 over the strait in 1954-55 and 1958 in the suez crisis in 1956, he was planning a bigger gain for higher stakes. west point cadet and young army officer, ike was a great poker player, and, indeed, so good, he had to give it up. he was taking too much money from the fellow officers hurting his career. he switched to bridge, but he never forgot how to bluff. the soviets, he bluffed with nuclear weapons. as only a real warrior can, ike hated war. curiously, the great war hero
was never in combat. in world war i, he was training troops to his great chagrin, and world war ii, he was too valuable and knew too much to risk getting captured or killed, but he knew war. he went to battlefield when they smelled and saw the carnage. he followed the paths of the german and russian armies seeing not a single building left standing. he went to the concentration camps with the tough general pat ton who vomited when they saw what they found there. he was changed when he came home. he was not religious, but he was more spiritual. he wanted to be religious, insisted on starting cabinet meetings with a prayer, but sometimes forged ahead with the agenda, and the pious secretary of state would nudge him, and eisenhower said, "jesus christ,
we forgot the prayer!" [laughter] they ordered the bombing of cities made him want to avoid any war. there was a lot of talk in the time about fighting limited wars, gradual response, and he was an all or nothing man. essential insight from reading about war and own experience is that war is a mutating monster that small short wars turn into big long wars, and that politicians and statesmen who think they can control war are kidding themselves. at the same time, ike was no pass vies. he believed that soviet communism was expansionist and easy to see why by looking at the map, and that you had to stand up to communism, but the way to do that was not by fighting small or limited or so-called brush fire wars, but threatening to go all the way by what they called massive retaliation, all or nothing,
shoot the works. this is what ike insisted on in berlin, but the national security council used an analogy, in order to begin working with the white chips working up to the blue, place them on notice, they, the soviets, that our whole stack is in play. he met no slow escalation from white chips to blue chips, rather the americans would, quote, hit the russians as hard as we could. the russians, quote, will have started the war. we will finish it. that's all the policy i have, said the president, and he added, this is not going to be some nice sweet world war ii kind of war. eisenhower had great human skills and usually refused to use the phone because he liked to meet people face to face. when russia, he had to meet them, take the measure, and make him his partner in avoiding war. the issue, ike wrote, in a smart
letter to a friend in 1956, quote, is not merely man against man or nation against nation. it is man against war. in the summer of 1959, ike invited crus choof to the united states, and they went over the suburbs to see houses and cars, and he pretended to see just the rush hour traffic jams but asked to buy three hell cometters and a boeing 747. [laughter] he met marilyn monroe. ike invited him to camp david. where is this camp david, he asked? he was suspicious, wondering if the americans wanted to kidnap him. at camp david, ranted and threatened that the tanks would roll in berlin. the top aide wrote impasse on a piece of paper. ike took a nap and had an idea. ike's farm was close by. called his darnel, barbara, and
told her to have the kids all spruced up on the porch of the farmhouse in 30 minutes. he brought him to meet them. ike's great insight about him was that he was a survivor. he survived hitler and stalin, after all. the kremlin leaders, ike said, were not early christian martyrs. they wanted to live. he was charmed and warmed by ike's grandchildren. he had grandchildren too. the next day after some more bickering, lifted the ultimatum on berlin, and the crisis passed. of course, it was not the end of the cold war or end of crisis. eisenhower was a great leader, but he was not perfect. he made mistakes. one of them was trusting the cia too much. in may 1960 on the eve of a summit conference in paris that ike hoped would be the beginning of true day taunt with the soviet union, the cia spy plane, u-2, was shot down over russia.
the cia suppressed a study showing aviation missiles climbed high enough to reach the u2 leading ike to believe the pilot would never be captured, die when the plane broke up or kill himself with a suicide pill. the russians captured the pie lot, francis gary powers, and he gloated about wicked american spies, and that was the end of the summit. eisenhower was depressed and wanted to resign when he came into the oval office after powers was captured and cover story was blown. he bounced back, always did, but in truth, after eight years, he was exhausted. he threatened to use nuclear weapons in various crisis, and once compared them to bullets, but never told anyone whether he would actually use them. he could not, of course, or the threat would not be credible. talk about the loneliness of
command. ike knew about the command from the north after -- africa campaign, d-day, germany, and liberation of europe. ike smoked four packs a day as a general, quit cold turkey in 1949. he gave himself an order to quit, he said. he had a heart attack in 1955, and operation in 1956, a small stroke in 1957, doctors worried about the blood pressure and ordering him to worry less. what do they they the job is, he said? he tried to relax playing golf. he played 800 times as president, a record, but golf was the wrong game for a perfectionist. he was grim on the course, and once through a chipping wedge at a doctor, howard snyder, when snyder tried to make him feel better about a shot from the bunker. he had a tumper. his mother would quote the bible
saying he the conquer their own soul is greater than he who takes a city. ike would say his mother taught him how to control the temper. one of the aids said i thought what a poor job she had done. [laughter] when he was mad, he was like tearing into a steel furnace said an aide. he had trouble sleeping, and towards the end, took too many sleeping pills and an extra drink of too, worn out in the end, and looked it in 1960. ike, old golf playing grandfather, versus jfk, young, handsome, vigorous, a new generation. the image stuck. scholars have known for at least 30 years that ike was a clever and devious president behind the scenes, but most people still think of ink as a genial grandfather. he was a genius president.
by threatening to use nuclear weapons, he never sent another american soldier into combat over eight years. in the 1950 #s seem boring in retrospect, it was because ike made them that way. he was a proud man, but modest. when asked how he wanted to be remembered, he said, don't let them put me on a horse. he was proud that in his time, america was strong and 59 peace. by body he once said, it just didn't happen. thank you very much. [applause] happy to take questions. anybody? sir? >> 50 cent paperback book in the trash of our of neighbors, the crusade of europe, fascinating
book about what ike did leading up to the june 6 invasion of europe in 1944. for example, he talked about the v2, at the time, v2 bombers, and, now, i guess we call them missiles. within less than one month, we had 1 million troops in europe. within less than one month, this is his saying, three years after the invasion, we had 171,532 vehicles in europe. can you imagine the preparation of all of this? i was wondering, as a question, do you think he had any of this devious or kind of bluffing that he had to impose on marshall and fdr to get this kind of action in place? >> i don't think he bluffed marshall or fdr, but, of course,
he was a good politician. he was a great politician. he used to say he didn't like politics, but the approval rating of president was 65%, a number modern politicians would kill for. he was very good. the way he did it, and i'm not the first to discover it, but he had the great gift of being underestimated and how useful it was to be underestimated, and so montgomery could swan around, and churchill could bluster, and patton could be patton, and eisenhower kept it steady because he knew he was in charge. he let other people have the glory and blow off the steam, but at the end. -- but at the end of the day, he was running the show. he was marvelous at it. nothing preabs you to be president, but running the liberation of europe is not a bad preparation. [laughter] on the first night in office, he writes in the diary, "plenty of
troubles and challenges ahead, but, you know, in a way, it feels like a continuation of what i did since 1941 and before." he was unphased by the job. he was profoundly affected to have the job, of course, but ready for anything. the idea of quiet confidence i keep coming back to in eisenhower. i mean, it hurt him historically. he didn't rebut the records. kennedys, one of the greatest hatchet jobs of all time, setting up the contract between the glam yows and old grandfatherly ike, ike didn't fight that. you know, in a way, he didn't need to. i'm sure he was -- he, you know, wanted to be remembered by history, and he is remembered. in fact, i think his place in history is getting better and better. this is the third book this year on eisenhower, but, you know, he knew himself, and he didn't have to show off, and this is a great
quality in leadership. yes, sir? >> i'm curious your reflections on eisenhower and the cia? he points to the brothers, used to be comfortable with that appointment, those two appointments, a lot of -- the bay of pigs -- >> a lot of activity. >> a lot of activity. at the end, they are leaving it, and is this a judgment he makes at the end of the eight years or -- >> the legacy of action was a cia problem, not directly with the cia, but, but it is true that there's an ark here. eisenhower, because he did not want to fight conventional nuclear war, butmented to stand up to -- but wanted to stand up to communism was a fan of covert activity. talk about bluffs, d-day, you
know, the germans thought we were coming through calleit. he used deception, intelligence, ultra code breakers, and this is important, he had a very high tolerance for mistakes in the intelligence. he understood intelligence is hard to do, going to make mistakes, covert action is hard, you'll make mistakes, and poly too high, and initially, there was successes in 5 # 3 and 54, and today, we don't feel great about those operations, but in 1953 it looks like we were dealing with communism pretty cheaply and efficiently and secretly. he gave the cia a lot of rope. they started doing less well by a failed coo in 1958, a botched coo in sierra in 1957, and the
own advisers quietly tell him, problems here. he points the father of the modern president, and like bob lovett, david bruce, smart guys, warn him, you got a problem here, and he says, you know, and you ought to get rid of dallace. he's the brother of john foster, secretary of state, but more important, really, he says it takes a strange kind of genius to run and intelligence service, and he's right about that, and allen did have a strange genius so ike was reluctant to get rid of them, begs to question to replace with whom? he did. i think he regretted it. john eisenhower told me that after the u2 was shot down, he went to his father on the plane to the paris summit about to collapse, the paris summit, and said to him, dad, you should
have fired that guy, and ike blew up and basically said i'm the president of the united states, but it was a little defensive about it because, you know, he probably should have gotten rid of dulles. they are clearer in retrospect than they are at the time. ike was a great manager, but he was arguably a little slow to get rid of people. i think not in world war ii, no problem with sacking generals in world war ii, but maybe a little slow in his own administration, at least in the second term. this is one squishy area in his presidency. i spent a lot of time on it. my long study of intelligence on the outside, amateur at it, but presidents think you can snap your fingers, and the cia does miraclous things. it doesn't work that way. eisenhower did understand that. he was reasonable about this. this is all highly relevant because right now, i'm sure the united states is thinking about
covert action on iran. the golden years of the cia are about to come back because we don't want to attack iran. we don't to bomb iran because that starts a war, but on the other hand, we don't want iran to get nuclear weapons. take those off the table, that leaves covert action. assad is already doing it, the computer virus, assad killing iranian scientists, i think you'll see more of that. my theory is obama looks tired, not because of the campaign, but covert action on iran probably to get the israelis to cool off, but that that is where all this is going, and it takes a pretty steady hand at the helm to oversee intelligence. it's tough. it's problematic. back there. >> as congress deals with
sequestering, particularly, with respect to defense policy and defense spending, what lessons can be applied from the way eisenhower? >> i wish eisenhower was around to deal with congress today because he believed in compromise. he was in his own party, opposition on the far right, but he dealt with that partly getting along with southern democrats, and he got along with the committee chairman, able to talk to him, and all the kind of comedy that existed in his day just doesn't exist today. i mean, when bob taft gave ike a tough time, blowing up at him at a meeting, ike took him golfing, and they became buddies. when taft died, taft was a friend of ike's. ike had personal charm, extraordinary charm, cold cold-blooded, but he had a warmth and used it on congressmen, and that's what we need today because we need a deal.
there's no way we're going -- you know, i think we're going over the fiscal cliff here, and it's going to be a big crisis, and everybody's going to wring their hands, and that's, hopefully, we're going to get a deal which is going to require raising taxes, which the republicans are going to hit, and cutting back entitlements that the democrats are going to hate, but it needs a compromise. i wish eisenhower were here to engineer that compromise. yes, sir? >> two quick questions. the first one is in response to something thaw yoid just minutes ago. i just came here from the vietnam memorial wall, and there are names from 1959. i think those needed to be noted in a footnote as happening -- >> that's true. >> under president eisenhower east watch. the bigger, little question as we've spoken. you signed my book, but i have not had a chance to read it. i don't know the depth in which you go in the u2 affair that's already been touched on, but i
am mindful that from beschloss's book called "may day" -- >> a great book. >> recounts the memoirs in 1964 calling up the then director of cia -- >> right. >> saying, john, can you remind me how that u2 plane came down, and he quotes, either quotes or misquotes a pastor telling him that the pilot, gary powers, gary powers said he had a flame out, and beschloss found it astonishing saying i neither had an engine flame out or radio back to the base and beschloss closes the book with "the riddle remains." >> i spent a lot of time chasing this. it remains somewhat of a
mystery, but i became convinced that what happened was that a -- sam ignited close enough to the plane to knock it into a spin and i was always a little, you know, there was a whole conspiracy theory that powers prematurely ejected because he was afraid the plane had been wired to blow up with him in it. i spent a long time chasing the theories. i don't think that's right. i think he had trouble -- he couldn't -- unable to hit the button that you have to push for the plane to blow up. >> the plane was out of control. >> was out of control. i'm a nonconspiracy theorist. i think that's a mistake rather than a conspiracy. i chased various theories and became convinced the story is
basically an innocent one, plane was shot down, the plane didn't blow up, and now it is true the cia lied to the president that he's going to be a dead pilot, that he'll take a suicide pill or be broken up in the plane, but that didn't happen, unfortunately. >> [inaudible] >> no, no, that lie was told by richard and allen dulles. >> thank you. >> sure, yeah. >> i was wondering why was this flight over central russia planned just before the summit conference? there's always been questions as to why they would do this. >> yeah, why fly this over the eve of the summit conference. there was a debate about it, and john eisenhower told me, john eisenhower, a major in the army who was general good, and he's in the white house, and in the
room so to speak, said the feeling felt like a bomber pilot in world war ii, running out of missions, and there was 28u2 missions up to this point, and ike had an uneasy feeling and department listen to it because everybody was for the flight. the joint chiefs, the soviets had a base up in the northern part of russia, wanted to look at that, and there was this constant demand from the cia and air force to look at targets to see how the russians were coming. there's a debate that we know now, a phone yi, -- phoney, but at the time, trying to see what the ground troops was. advisers say take the flight, not withstanding the risk, and richard bissell, the bad guy
here, given a report by the arrest force that said the sam, the soviet antiaircraft missiles, can now reach 6500 feet, the height of a u2 so the u 2-rbgs is in danger of getting knock down. he sent a cover your ass memo and defixed it. eisenhower was not made aware of the essential piece of intelligence. i believe if he saw the report, he would not have authorized the flight. >> talking about what peaked your interest, and working intelligence or -- >> it was a lot of things. i was interested in the 50s generally because it's an interesting period. i grew up in the 50s, scared of nuclear war, the duck and cover drills, fearful kid, so that made me interested. what really got me going was
lunch with a journalist thinking about doing a book on the dulles brothers, and we decided to talk about that, and he was talking about andy goodpastor, and he knew him, and he told him, you know, i don't think ike was ever going to use nuclear weapons, but he never talked about it. i started thinking, boy, when you think about, you know, the cliche, the loneliness of the command, holy smokes, the man who has the power to destroy man kind. if everybody launches, at least the northern hemisphere is toast. that's a lot of responsibility, and he's running this bluff basically, he doesn't want to fight conventional wars, but only he knows. of course, he can't tell anybody. i was reading -- i got to thinking about this, and i was reading bundy's book about
nuclear strategy, and there's a scene where there's president kennedy, this is later, 1961, berlin squared up again, and kennedy says, oh, my god, how do i know when to use nuclear weapons? they turnedded to afterrenson, the grand man, secretary of state, says don't be afraid, and what eisenhower says is, mr. president, if i were you, i would think for a long time, and then i would tell no one. you can't tell anybody. that was fascinating to me. that got me going. there's a good book by campbell craig called "destroying the village" on ike's policy, helpful to me. there's scholarship on this. i'm a popular journalist who stands on the shoulders of academics, fred greenstein, and i hardly discovered this. i'm a journalist who knew there was a story here, and so i pursued it. anybody else? sir?
>> on the vietnam thing, it's my understanding those two soldiers were killed by snipers so ike would say nobody died in combat so the debate is whether they were killed by snipers or combat. >> wasn't there an explosion or something? something like that, yeah. i know they -- ike uses that statistics, nobody killed in combat. i believe somebody in lebanon died in 56, an accident, some people count that as a death. look, you can endlessly pick over these things, but the essential point is that ike did not send soldiers into combat for a long time. what other modern president can make that claim? >> sir? >> yeah? >> early in the administration, china, and i don't know if the book touches on this, and in may of 1953, operation as a was
developed, and they played a key role in that, did he not? >> admiral, chairman of the joint chiefs, navy admiral said in world war ii, what was the line? we learned to burn them scientifically, you know, was in favor of modern warfare, and he wanted to use tactical nuclear weapons as did john foster dulles as well as richard nixon when the french were losing at the end. they felt this was the time to use tactical weapons to try to rescue the situation. ike listened to that. rejected that advice. never really tipped his hand at what he was thinking. this is one of the moments when he had to decide because the french's position was procare yows and losing, and he made the decision, one, not to get involved sending ground troops in saying the jungle will come soup the army by division so he
did not want to put in ground troops, and he thought about, but rejected the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons. okay? back there. >> any effort after stalin died early in the presidency to attempt to reset the relationship? you mentioned the two year interval. >> this is an important moment. sal lin, of course, used to talk about the inevidentability of the conflict with the west, but he dies in early march 1953 #, as i said at the top of the talk, there's no plan, the cia doesn't know what the hell to do, but ike decides to give a speech, and he gives this heart felt speech, one of the really great speeches, i think, called "a chance for speech" using a famous line for every bomber we build, ten schoolings we don't build. for every missile we build, it's a highway we don't build. he lays out the cost of all of
this, and he goes and says to the soviet union, this is a good time to get off this train. the problem is within the soviet union, they don't know who is in charge, busy dealing with, you know, killing off some, and susan knows the history better than i do, but there's such tulmult, nobody's in charge and takes them two years, really, and we don't have good intelligence on what's going on in the soviet union. the first cia station chiefs was caught in moscow caught in a honey trap, a kgb set up with a prostitute and png so the cia didn't have anything going there. he was called the denied territory in world war ii lexiconment we didn't have good intelligence. things were chaotic. i don't think there was a deal to be had because there was nobody on the other side. nonetheless, nonetheless, maybe if we tried harder, one of these
what-ifs you can ponder. i know there's scholars who believe there was a missed opportunity that our rigid cold war thinking, and dulles resist resistent to negotiation, which is true, one of those what-ifs never to be resolved, but ike's heart was in this. that speech, you know, tellingly, ike had a cool hand. ike had a symptom mas that got upset when he gave important speeches, so sick gives that speech, he was skipping pages to get through this speech. his aids watched going, oh, my god, there's beads of suite on him, got through it, it's worth googling to read. >> would you comment on the solarium project? >> one of the great planning exercising of all time, and a model for everything that followed was ike coming out of the truman administration had to
figure out a strategy, and he put together, ike was unafraid to put smartest guys in the room. presidents don't want to do that. ike welcomed debate, jumped in himself, and so he organized a methodical process where people offered three options, basically, a preemptive strike on the union, a fairly aggressive rollback strategy, and another that looked like containment, aired these things, and at the end, there's a famous quote from george cannon who was, of course, the author of "containment," and he was running the containment task force, and he had a con -- condescending view, and he said at the end of the meeting, eisenhower, the president, stands up and sharply summarizes what nay were talking about for three days, gettings -- gets right to the heart of the matter, and cannon goes, wow,
he's the smartest guy in the room. he department show the smarts until the very end. what that process produced was this strategy that is called massive retaliation. i mean, the idea was organize -- it's all or nothing. going to bluff, bluff with nuclear weapons to avoid getting into small wars, and, also, to save money with the so-called new look relying heavily on nuclear weapons, and ike, this takes guts, cut the hell out of his own service, the army. in fact, the army chief of staff quit or was not reappointed, i guess, but was angry at ike as was general taylor, the next army chief the staff. he had the guts to take on his own service and cut back the army because he didn't see a use for them if he was not fighting conventional wars. how many presidents can do that thing? it amazed he he controlled spending from 1953-1960 when we
have to build bomber fleets and all of this stuff, and, yet, the significance of this is that there's a big budget impact because in 1958-59, military spending is 60% or 70% of the federal budget. today it's 20%. defense is where the money was. if you want to control federal spending and have balanced budgets, control defense spending in the 1950s, and ike was able to do that despite tremendous pressure on him to spend more, spend more, spend more. the bomber gap, the missile gap. the democrats were crazy about this. interesting democrats wanted to spend more money on defense in 1950s, and ike was a solitary figure in his quiet way, working behind the scenes basically saying, and not the pentagon hype when the generals, i mean, air force said we got to have 87 air wings -- i don't know the
precise number, but ike would go, no, we don't. that's a number they arbitrarily picked, but it takes a strong president to stand up to the punish. it was all quietly done, but he did it. yeah? >> what's this eisenhower story with the bay of pigs, and the plane and into the kennedy administration. >> sure, yep. ike, who did believe in covert operations and did not like castro, did authorize the cia to create an exile army of cuban exiles to find an exile government to be ready to take over if the castro government fell. so, yes, he's involved in the planning to that degree, but i'm quite sure that eisenhower never would have given his permission to the bay of pigs plan as it was carried out because kennedy, thinking he could have limited wars and be modified about it, removed the air cover of the
operation, which ike never would have done, and moved the landing location making it harder for them to go guerrilla as they say, and very interestingly, after the bay of pigs failed, president kennedy called ex-president eisenhower and asked to meet at camp david. kennedy was totally distraught. he wept the morning of the failure of the bay of pigs. this is a day later, and eisenhower starts questioning president kennedy how did you talk to the joint chiefs? how did you talk to the military? did you quiz them? did you make sure they were in the same room? it becomes clear that kennedy didn't really question the regimes, and he was unable to hear what i think was a secret dog whistle which goes like this. the pentagon says, it's okay. what they mean it it's a cia operation, not our responsibility. kennedy, who had been a lieutenant in the navy, what did he know, couldn't hear that, and unfortunately thought that the
joint chiefs were signing off on the operation when they were not really. what they really said is it's not our responsibility, and so it's a very revealing colloquy between kennedy and ike where ike basically says to kennedy, you know, the next time you do this, make sure you really talk to everybody and have a real debate about it, and if you do it, you know, really do it because, as i said, he was an all or nothing guy, and kennedy gets the picture. it's part of the education with kennedy. what i like about kennedy is he was raw and green, but he learned on the ground. he was bullied at the vienna summit, a rough summer with berlin, but he learned, and by the time of the cuban missile crisis in 1962, he's a great president. listen to the tapes of the missile crisis, and i have for a book i wrote on bobby kennedy, after the tapes, kennedy sounds great. president kennedy, particularly on the last day, the 13th day
everybody's getting nervous, you hear voices getting squeaky, president kennedy is cool understanding we need a deal, russians, secretly, but have to make a deal with them, and thank god there was a couple years to learn on the job, and because he did in the end handle the crisis well. some of the education came from president eisenhower. anybody else? thank you very much. [applause] for more information visit the author's website at evanthomasbooks.com. >> booktv on location at the u.s. naval academy in annapolis, maryland interviews professors who a also authors. we are joined by richard ruth, a professor at the naval academy.
professor, what do you teach? >> predominantly asian history, and offer courses in thailand and vietnam. >> host: why important for students to know southeast asian history? >> guest: the united states is very much engaged in that corner of the world that we have many allies there. we have many partners we are working with, and many students at the naval academy, shipmen who will be officers who are going to southeast asia and remitting our interests there. i think it's important for them to know southeast asian history to be comfortable with the cultures and have knowledge of the history. >> host: well, professor ruth, a long time ally is thailand, and you wrote a book called "in buddhist company: thai soldiers in the vietnam war." what role did they play? >> guest: thai land was a close ally to the united states in the vietnam war, and those
familiar with the circumstances of the vietnam war know not only did thailand send troops to fight along the united states and other free world forces, but they served as a base for many of the aircraft that were flying, bombing missions over the trail, over laos, south vietnam, and so we issue at the- so we, at the time, built seven air bases, developed a court there as well to facilitate the u.s. effort in the vietnam war, and also many american soldiers went on r and r to bangkok and spent a lot of time there, and in terms of direct support and more peripheral support, thailand was a close ally of the u.s. and important part of the war effort. >> host: did they have soldiers in vietnam? >> guest: absolutely, and that's what i concentrate on in the book. thailand spent 37,000 soldiers, half combat, the other combat support troops to fight in south
vietnam as allies to the united states. they also spent smaller naval units and air units, but, still, there was combat units fighting outside of saigon and the province working with the united states, working with the south vietnamese and the other allies, the filipinos and south korean. >> host: what about casualties? >> guest: 500-plus casualties -- well, i should say 500 thais died in south vietnam while fighting what we call the veitkong, and it's important to focus on it because they tend to dismiss them as america's mercenaries because we paid for the -- a lot of the military hardware and transportation and lo gist ticks and extry pay that the thai troops received, and we focus on thais engaged in black
market schemes, but truth behind it all is that thai soldiers were figging. thai soldiers were dying for four years. thailand was carrying out their war, what they saw as their war in south vietnam so the casualties are something to keep in mind. >> host: professor ruth, thai-u.s. relations, when did they start to really jell? they were an ally for a long time participating in the iraq war and world war ii. >> guest: absolutely. it can date back to king monk and famous example of offering lincoln war elephants for his troubles for the american civil war, but definitely in the 20th century, the thais were always close u.s. ally. i mean, and this is intensified
really disrurpted partly during the second war ii, but as soon as the cold war jells, thailand pretty much comes in along as a strong u.s. ally, and definitely a strong cold war ally in terms of being an anti-communist component to the u.s. global strategy. >> host: why do you call it "in buddhist company," where did the title come from? >> guest: those who fought saw themselves as buddhist warriors, and buddhism informed their service. some is ideological. some saw themselves as trying to halt communism as a kind of godless or a kind of threat to the practice of religious values or traditions. they saw buddhism as under threat by communism, and some also has to do with thailand and
its role as being the custodian of buddhism in the world as being the center of a very intense buddhist tradition. many of the thai soldiers who fought there before leaving took oaths in front of the most sacred buddhist image in tieland now, what we tall an english biewd dallace, the image, and many wore a signature of them, coming into contact with soldiers from other countries. they wore small things around their neck as identifying symbols. they brought statues with them and rebuilt buddhist temples wrecked or abandoned in south vietnam because of the fighting, and i think their service was informed by buddhist ideals, especially the buddhist notion of loving kindness, the mercy while a lot of the veterans i
talked to in doing research invoked a concept of mercy to describe why they were fighting and why they sympathized so much with the vietnamese people, why they wanted to help them and protect them so even as i think about it, their attitude towards nature and war's effect on animals and forests and people, all of that had a kind of buddhist root to it so in coming up with the title, i did want to focus on their own self-image as kind of buddhist warriors if that's not too much of a contradiction. >> host: what role does the king play in thai land, and if the king had said no to war, would thailand have helped out in the vietnam war? >> guest: that's a great question because the king plays an important part, not only in promoting thailand's involvement in the war, but giving his blessing to the departing
soldiers from the earliest discussions with the united states. the president king of tieland is in the middle of the discussions talking to johnson, both in bangkok and in washington, but when they did start recruiting soldiers, the king made it clear that he supported the venture. he bid farewell, sponsored a lot of celebrations that marked the departure of the troops to south vietnam showing a direct interest in the well being, visited the wounded soldiers in the hospital when they came back. he presided over funeral ceremonies for them at the royal sponsored temples, and so from the very beginning the kiang of thailand was involved in this supporting it, and whether he gave a blessing or not and would it still go forward? i don't know. pretty much hard to imagine without his support such a thing taking place.
>> host: currently, what kind of relationship does the u.s. military have with the thai military? >> guest: a close relationship with the royal thai army. this is something that has not changed since the vietnam war. we have regular annual exercises with the thais and other regional armies that they hold every year in thailand called cobra gold, and many of the thai officers train in the united states and have contact with the american counterparts here so that has not changed from the vietnam war. i mean, there was a brief souring of thai-u.s. relations at the war's conclusion, but it was momentary, most of the time we've had steadily close relationship with thailand. >> host: why is this important to know about the thai involvement in the vietnam war? >> guest: well, a couple reasons. thailand had the third largest
foreign army? south vietnam for many of the years that the war was underway. this is after the united states and south korea. the thailand saw the war as a direct threat to themselves. they were a regional power in a regional war. they didn't necessarily see this as america's war. they saw it as something to directly affect them, and it did that had to concentrate on south vietnam, but a lot of the fighting was going on in laos, and same solders, thai solders, who fought in vietnam, fought in the north and the communists. you can't get a full view of the vietnam war without reading some of these regional perspectives. i think, at times, united states, we tend to not only privilege an american position, but almost to focus on exclusively american perspective of the vietnam war while
ignoring vietnamese perspective and thai-lao, cam bodian, other national perspectives to consider. i also think about allies as well, too, that these -- the united states is always going to have foreign allies in these conflicts, and through studying the interaction of what worked and what didn't work, what were the sort of elements where we agreed and disagreed, that kind of thing, that will help us understand what we are doing whether it's in iraq or afghanistan or other conflicts. i think if you want a complete picture of the vietnam war, it works like this that help. >> host: "in buddhist company" the name of the book, thai soldiers in the vietnam war, richard ruth, professor at the naval academy and author of the book, thank you for your time.